The First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
One sentence. It seems so short, and yet, it contains the freedoms that are at the very core of what it means to be an American.
220 years ago today, this was passed into law, and has provided Americans with freedoms that citizens of many other countries are not able to enjoy to this day.
It’s these freedoms that separate us from the majority of the rest of the world. We are so blessed, and I think it’s safe to say that most of the time we barely even notice it. Let me take this opportunity to implore you not to take these core freedoms for granted. These freedoms are not something that were simply given to us. These freedoms were fought for. These freedoms were earned. We, as individuals, may not have explicitly fought for these freedoms ourselves, but it is because of the efforts of those in the military that have sacrificed their time, their health, and sometimes even their lives, that we are able to enjoy these freedoms today. It may be a cliche, but freedom isn’t free.
My father was in the Air Force for over 20 years, from before I was born to just a few short years ago, so I have quite a healthy respect for those in the military and what they have to sacrifice. But being in the military is not simply a sacrifice. It is an honor. It is, like these core freedoms mentioned above, something that is earned, not given. I am proud to be a part of our nation’s extended military family. And I am proud that my father has helped protect these very freedoms that we are celebrating today.
To me, you absolutely cannot separate the First Amendment from what it means to be an American. It’s impossible. If you take away my right to choose my own religion, to speak freely, to write freely, to protest, you take away what is at the core of being an American.
Thanks to the First Amendment, I am free to worship my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thanks to the First Amendment, I am free to write all of this without fear of punishment. I can worship God freely, and not have to live in fear that the government will come into my home and arrest me. That is not the case in some other countries. Can you even imagine that? I mean, really? I was born here in the United States, and have been raised here, and for me it has always been this way. I cannot comprehend what it must be like to live in fear of the government.
We are free here to worship in peace. We are free to write about it. We are free to talk about it. And while sometimes, I admit, I do feel a little attacked as it becomes more and more politically incorrect to be a Christian. It has become increasingly difficult to profess my faith without some sort of backlash from society, because being a Christian isn’t the norm. I get that, and that’s fine. So long as the government doesn’t step in and tell me it’s wrong to be a Christian, that’s perfectly fine. I have a right to worship my God, and you have a right to worship, or not worship, whatever you choose.
And that’s what’s great about being American. It’s respect. I do respect your right to worship whomever and whatever you please. I do. What bugs me is when people try to tell me that I am offending them by worshipping God, or by simply being a Christian. That is where I draw the line. That is ridiculous. Many people seem to forget these days that our country was founded on Christian principles. And the fact that it is becoming more politically correct to say “Happy holidays,” or nothing at all, as opposed to Merry Christmas offends me! I celebrate Christmas. I say, “Merry Christmas!” And I do not see anything wrong with that, and I simply cannot comprehend how my saying that could offend anyone. I’m not forcing my beliefs on you, I’m simply celebrating a holiday that I celebrate and believe in.
I’ve spent all this time just talking about one freedom mentioned in the First Amendment! Freedom of religion is clearly the most important to me, though freedom of speech is right up there as well. I am so thankful that I am able to write whatever I want. And I am extremely grateful that our media is allowed to publish the truth, instead of just a government-censored version of the truth that other countries get. This is especially applicable for me, because I want to go into a career in the media. Ideally, I would love to be a writer for a blog or an editorial column, and thanks to the rights guaranteed to me by the First Amendment, that is something completely possible. I could freely write my opinion without fear of censorship. That is not to say that I can just publish untrue things about people, because I could then be accountable for libel. These freedoms don’t come without restrictions, but if you follow the law you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
For example, freedom of speech does not mean that you are allowed to shout, “FIRE!!!” in a crowded theater. It’s the oldest example there is, but I use it because it’s true. You have these freedoms, but you must be careful to use them in such a way that they do not cause harm to other people.
This is getting long already and I haven’t even touched on the other two freedoms mentioned – the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government. These are also very fundamental to what it means to be an American. We are able to protest something we think is wrong (such as is the case with those protesting right now all over the country in the “Occupy” movement). We are able to gather signatures and petition the government to make changes. America is a democracy. And at the risk of sounding childish, it’s freaking awesome because of it.
We are a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I couldn’t be prouder to be an American. I thank God for those in the military that have fought to defend my rights. And I thank God for the people brave enough to protest what they believe is wrong. Because, without them, we’d still be drinking from segregated water fountains and women wouldn’t be allowed to vote.
We’ve come a long way. And I can only hope we can go even further.
Fight for your rights. Fight for your freedoms.
God bless the U.S.A.